Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Maintain Office Productivity with These Tips

How To Stay Productive After Work After a long, hard day at work, the last thing many of us want to do is go home, buckle down, and go to work on something else. It can be tempting to just fall down on the couch, order a pizza, and then stumble off to bed, but doing that means you never use your free time to learn a new language, read a good book, start your own blog, or work on any of the personal projects that you're passionate about. So how do you resist the temptation to do nothing when you're not working? Here are some tips.
Inspired by this thread at Hacker News , we asked you not too long ago how you made time for your pet projects when your willpower and energy reserves are running low. If there's anything both threads taught us, it's that there's no shortage of ways to stay motivated and productive when you feel like you're running on empty.
How To Stay Productive After Work

Get Started As Soon As You Get Home

A number of you said that if you wait until you've had dinner or spent some time with your family, it's too late and your energy is gone—you're too far out of "the zone" to really get back into it. The solution? Walk through the door, say hello to everyone, and head right for your workspace at home to do a little work. Whether it's a few minutes or an hour, getting started as soon as you get home and you're still in work mode goes a long way. Photo by AISPIX by Image Source (Shutterstock).
Commenter seewhatIdidthere1 says :
For me, body in motion tends to stay in motion, body at rest tends to stay at rest. If I want to get something done after work, I need to keep moving and not sit down and rest until I'm ready to call it day. For me at least, I literally avoid sitting down when i get home if there are other things I want to get done. Once I sit down, the odds me getting the next thing accomplished get cut in half.

Get Out Of the House

If the siren song of your couch or bed is just too much for you to bear, the key for you to make headway on your pet projects may be to get out of the house and go somewhere you can work or learn something new. Head out to your local hackerspace to get your DIY on, or drop by your favorite coffee shop to do some writing or coding. Reader cellophane suggests taking a class that keeps you out of the house, and reader William Mize says :
I'm working on my third novel, and I find that if I walk through my front door, I'm sunk.

There's Netflix, there's snacking, there's plenty to distract me from doing my pages for that day.
Instead, I stop by the Panera that is between my day job and my home.
I go there, order a healthy meal, open up my laptop and hit my word count before I go home.

Then, once there, I can enjoy guilt free laziness.
How To Stay Productive After Work

Give Yourself 10 Minutes. Just 10 MInutes

Lifehacker Editor-in-Chief Adam Pash gives himself 10 minutes in the evening to work on his pet projects , sometimes more, never less. If he can drag himself off the couch for 10 minutes of focused work, that's a success—and at the end of that 10 minutes, if he feels like working some more, he does. If he feels like closing up shop and going back to the couch, he does. The important thing here is that he makes himself get started, and even on those nights when he doesn't feel like doing anything, he at least gets 10 minutes of progress towards his goals. Photo by bendao (Shutterstock).

Pick Projects You Love

One of the best ways you can make sure you'll have the energy and the drive to work on the things that matter to you is to pick projects that you're passionate about and you're naturally drawn to. If you love something, you'll be much more likely to dedicate some of those precious after-work hours to it. Says commenter alterno2k7 :
Easy. Sign up for stuff you love.
I have Danish lessons and salsa lessons in the afternoon. If you already paid for them, you are gonna show up. Plus the feeling is so good when you are there, and you are productive without really being proactive on those days when you are really tired.
Reader mindar101 reiterates the point :
"The best exercise is the exercise that you'll do." Brilliant and so true, and also true for hobbies. Choose hobbies and side projects that you'll look forward to when you get home. Avoid things that you 'want yourself to do' but that will get all of two days' worth of attention from you, and then leave you sitting in front of the TV feeling even more rotten.
How To Stay Productive After Work

Make Sure You Get Some Exercise

Want more energy, or more hours in your day? Exercise. It may seem counterintuitive, but exercise is key. Even a walk around the block will make you feel energized, and the benefits grow with more regular and frequent activity. Reader Ben Bond summed it up nicely :
First, I find that exercising in the evening gives me energy for the rest of the night. Even a 15 or 20 minute walk right after work boosts my energy immediately. Second, going to a different location forces me to focus.
If you're not making time to exercise, that may be the first thing you want to do—if you can fit in a 20-30 minute workout into your day, you'll feel the results almost instantly, and while you shouldn't give up sleep, you'll at least be more motivated to do the things you've always wanted to do instead of wasting the evening in front of the TV. Photo by Mircea Bezergheanu (Shutterstock) .

Schedule It and Keep It in the Front of Your Mind

If you use some energy earlier in the day scheduling and thinking about your projects, it'll be easier to respond to an alarm or a beeping phone later in the day and go to work. Commenter MischiefMack also pointed out how important planning is , and suggested you get started thinking about your pet project before you even leave the office, so you're pumped and ready to tackle it when you get home. When you do get home, have a very specific goal to accomplish, and get started. Mad Molecule also stressed the importance of specific goals :
First, plan what you want to do with your evening ahead of time. When making this plan (and all plans), BE SPECIFIC. "I want to be productive" is not specific. "I will finish ten pages of this screenplay," "I will clean and organize the hall closet," "I will set fire to the homes of half of my enemies"—these are specific goals.
Speaking of goals, one commenter at Hacker News makes his goals for each night public so he has to stick to them—every day at lunch, he emails his friend with what he wants to accomplish when he gets home. Then, when he gets home, his friend has responded with a little encouragement (and a desire to see the progress), which motivates him to get busy before it gets too late to work.

Stop Working After Work and Get Up Early Instead

If coming home and working on that app you're developing just seems too daunting for you, maybe the key isn't trying to summon the energy to do more when you're tired, and instead giving in to the temptation to go to bed early. The earlier you go to bed, the earlier you can wake, and if you can wake up a little earlier, you can carve out some time in the morning to work on your pet project, read that book you've been meaning to read, or do some development on that new webapp you want to build. Plus, getting up early has other benefits , the least of which being it makes the start to your day much less stressful.
How To Stay Productive After Work

Forgive Yourself When you Stumble

Finally, realize that you won't be productive every night. Some nights you'll stay on the couch, and others you'll just forget to do what you meant to do. That's okay—forgive yourself and pick up again the next day. Remember, productivity isn't everything, and if you beat yourself for being unproductive on a night where you really just needed to rest, you run the risk of growing to resent your project and giving up on it entirely. Another commenter at Hacker News makes this point completely clear :
  1. Let go of the guilt of not being productive.
  2. Let go of any other guilt or pressure to do something more valuable with your time or improve something that you already know how to do.
  3. Accomplish a small goal that is unrelated to your larger goal. The more unrelated, the better. If your goal is to start a company, teach yourself calligraphy instead or learn how to prune a fruit tree.
  4. Once you're feeling good again, you know, where you feel good doing stuff after your normal work, take a look at your original goal. Can you start working on it again? Has the break given you a fresh perspective on it? Can you break it down into small achievable chunks now?
  5. If yes, do that. If no, go back to 1.
What are some of your best after-hours productivity tips? Have any more suggestions for how to stay motivated to work on your passions when your day job has left you tired? Share them in the comments below. Photo by eurobanks (Shutterstock).
Title photo by StockLite (Shutterstock).

10 Tips for Being Ultra Productive

"Time is what we want most, but what we use worst." – William Penn
"Time is really the only capital that any human being has, and the only thing he can't afford to lose." – Thomas Edison
"It's how we spend our time here and now, that really matters. If you are fed up with the way you have come to interact with time, change it." – Marcia Wieder
Do you ever wish you had more time to do everything? Have you had days that were busy but inefficient? Would you like to be highly productive, feel accomplished at the end of each day, with even time to spare?
The following are ten tip to help master your time, interspersed with thoughtful quotes, many of which from well known, successful individuals who have (obviously) made good use of their time.
1. Do not confuse busyness with productivity . Highly productive people are often less busy than those who are overworked and overwhelmed.
"It's not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?" – Henry David Thoreau
2. Do not confuse the urgent with the important. Last-minute distractions from yourself and especially others are not necessarily priorities.
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." – Steve Jobs
"If you want to make good use of your time, you've got to know what's most important and then give it all you've got." – Lee Iacocca
3. The key to time management is self-management.
"The bad news is time flies. The good news is you're the pilot." – Michael Altshuler
For tips on successful self-management, see my articles  Are You a Poor Communicator? How to Improve ,  Seven Ways to Say "No" and Keep Good Relations , and Eight Keys to Life Hardiness and Resiliency .
4. Remember the 80/20 rule of time management , which tells us that 80 percent of the importance of what we do in any given day lies in only twenty percent of the activities. Therefore, if you focus on accomplishing the top twenty percent of the most important tasks, you will feel more productive and satisfied at the end of the day.
"One man gets only a week's value out of a year while another man gets a full year's value out of a week." – Charles Richards
"I get paid not by how many hours I work, but by the importance of the problems I solve." – Anonymous
5. Use a good day planner. The best ones give you at least one full page (or screen) per day, with space allocated for each working hour of the day.
"I must govern the clock, not be governed by it." – Golda Meir
6. Separate obligatory time from discretionary time. In your day planner, block out all the times when you're committed to others to be at a certain place at a certain time, such as meetings, conferences and other appointments. What's not your obligatory time is your discretionary time. This is the time you can manage.
"Realize that now, in this moment of time, you are creating. You are creating your next moment. That is what's real." – Sara Paddison
7. List: At the beginning of each day, write down a bullet-point list of everything you would like to accomplish this day.
"Make use of time, let not advantage slip." – William Shakespeare
"This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it." – Ralph Waldo Emerson
8. Prioritize: Next to each bullet-point item, assign an "A" if this is a "must do" item for today, a "B" for "should do" and a "C" for "could do." For large projects, break it down into small parts and prioritize. Divide-and-conquer.
"For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned." – Benjamin Franklin
"The key is in not spending time, but in investing it." – Stephen R. Covey
9. Implement: Focus on accomplishing your "A" list with your discretionary time. Check off each item as it's complete. With this system, even if you only accomplish twenty percent of your entire list for the day, you still would have accomplished eighty percent of the most important work.
"Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else." – Peter F. Drucker
10. What you don't finish today, transfer to your list for tomorrow and reprioritize.
In conclusion, when we manage our time wisely, we can be at our productive best, so we can enjoy life more and rest!
"Time equals life; therefore, waste your time and waste of your life, or master your time and master your life." – Alan Lakein
For more on personal success, download free excerpts of my publications "Communication Success with Four Personality Types ", " How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People ", and " Wealth Building Attitudes, Values, and Habits ".
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Preston Ni, M.S.B.A. is available as a presenter, workshop facilitator, and private coach. For more information, write to , or .
© 2012 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide.

Best Home WiFi Routers - Summer 2012

Five Best Home Wi-Fi Routers Buying a wi-fi router these days is no easy task. Long gone are the days where one model rose above the rest: now there are routers with different features, some that focus on range, others that focus on speed, and still others with advanced features like NAS support and traffic shaping options. This week we're going to take a look at five of the best home wi-fi routers, based on your nominations.
Earlier in the week, we asked you which wireless routers you thought were the bestfor customization, range, signal strength, and features. You responded with more nominees than we could feature here, but a few models really rose out of the pack and were your clear favorites. Here they are:
Five Best Home Wi-Fi Routers

Linksys WRT54G Series

The venerable Linksys WRT54G has long been one of the most hackable wireless routers on the market, and while they're a little trickier to come by these days, they're still widely available and if you can get your hands on one, you won't find another router that supports both the DD-WRT and Tomato alternate router firmwares better and more smoothly. Even though it's an 802.11g model and lacks 802.11n, and the range and speed of some of its more modern rivals, it's a rock solid router with a well earned fan base. It may be end-of-life from Linksys' perspective, but they do keep a well-updated support page dedicated to it. There's a reason this model has its own entry here.
Five Best Home Wi-Fi Routers

Apple Airport Extreme /Express

A number of you nominated the Apple Airport Extreme and Airport Express for their simple configuration, minimal design, and remarkably low price point for what you get. It's not terribly hackable, and you're not going to buy an Airport model and go home planning to install custom firmware, but you will be able to slip an Airport Express in your pocket or suitcase and be able to set up or extend a wireless network anywhere you go (or plug it into any set of speakers to make them Airplay compatible), and you will be able to set up an Airport Extreme in a matter of minutes and have a cozy dual band 802.11n blanket over your whole house. The Express sports a pair of 10/100 Ethernet ports on the back, and the Extreme boasts four gigabit Ethernet ports for other devices. Both offer USB ports for connected devices like printers or (in the case of the Extreme) NAS devices. If you want a truly fire-and-forget router, the Airport Extreme is a good choice.
Five Best Home Wi-Fi Routers

Netgear N Series (WNDR Models)

Netgear has come a long way, and its N-series (also known by their model numbers, WNDRXXXX) wireless routers are proof. PC Mag issued the N750/WNDR4000 an Editor's Choice award (and I'm a happy owner of one!) and the N900/WNDR4500 is one of the most powerful and speedy dual-band 802.11n home routers on the market today. Many of Netgear's N-series routers are compatible with DD-WRT, but even if you're not the type to flash your router's firmware, Netgear's own firmware offers quality-of-service controls, advanced access and parental controls, support for dynamic DNS, advanced wireless security options, and offer support for NAS devices and printers connected via USB. They range in price, and many of the better ones are definitely on the high-end, but in this case you get what you pay for.
Five Best Home Wi-Fi Routers

ASUS RT Series

You may not think of ASUS when you think of wireless routers, especially if you haven't purchased a router in several years, but the ASUS RT series, specifically theASUS RT-N56 and RT-N66 models, combine great features and sharp looks into a networking package that offers dual-band 802.11n, support for connected devices like printers and NAS devices via USB, and some of the strongest signal strength and range available. Plus, most of ASUS's models support builds of DD-WRT or Tomato, so if you want even more control over the router's features, it's readily available to you. The RT-N66 even has detachable antennae that you can swap out for higher-powered versions that you can either buy (like the Mohu Bounce ) or build yourself .
Five Best Home Wi-Fi Routers

Linksys E Series

When Linksys started to phase out the WRT54G series, they started to direct customers to the E Series—their easy-to-configure (and sharp-looking) replacement models. Every member of the E Series is an 802.11n router, and many of you praised them—specifically the E4200 —for their blend of features, simple setup, range and signal strength, and the fact that many of the E-series routers are compatible with DD-WRT, so you can flash the firmware and get even more features once the router is set up the way you like. Linksys' price point is attractive as well, and even if you opt not to flash the firmware, you can very affordably buy a router that takes moments to set up and needs little maintenance after the fact. It doesn't hurt that many of Cisco's routers specifically support household features like VoIP and traffic shaping for things like torrents, putting some relatively advanced features in the hands of people who may have been intimidated by them before.
Now that you've seen the top five, it's time to put them to an all out vote to decide the winner!

No honorable mentions this week, as the next one down the line had fewer than half the nominations of the least nominated member of the top five, but if you think your favorite model got shortchanged, let us know why in the comments below! Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week . Share your thoughts in the comments below.
The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it's not because we hate it—it's because it didn't get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it's a bit of a popularity contest, but if you have a favorite, we want to hear about it. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at !
Photo by nrkbeta .

Infographic: When to Purchase Fruits, Vegetables & Herbs

The Produce posters are now available for purchase in 8×10 and 11×17 prints at the Chasing Delicious Store . 
I'd be remiss if I simply focused on imparting technical knowledge in these Kitchen 101 posts without talking about ingredients, particularly the biggest misconception about produce today: it is naturally available year-round. Though you may be able to find just about every type of fruit, vegetable or herb everyday of the year in the grocery store, a majority of those items are not in season. If you are buying a strawberry in december, you are likely purchasing a fruit that was picked six months ago and stored in a climate controlled facility. Or you are buying a berry that has spent the last few weeks in a shipping container as it trekked halfway across the globe from somewhere in the southern hemisphere. This extra time between picking and eating means loss of nutrients, flavor and more.
Time spent in transit is not the only over-inflated aspect of buying produce out of season. Massive refrigerated storage facilities and cross-globe journeys are expensive. There's a reason that summertime $1 pint of strawberries  is magically $8 six months later. And then there is the environment. The carbon footprint associated with out of season produce can be astronomical.
The biggest problem with buying out of season produce though is the lack of freshness and sacrifice in flavor and nutrients. There are far too many, far too boring reasons to elaborate on this point but I will say there is a reason many high end restaurants and millions of foodies around the world only buy produce when it is in season.  You save money, contribute a smaller carbon foot print, are getting a better product that typically tastes much better and you know  it hasn't been sitting for half a year somewhere.

My favorite part about abiding by an ingredient's natural availability is what I like to call the Thanksgiving-effect.  Most of us only eat those famous turkey-day dishes on thanksgiving because the meal, and each particular dish, is more special that way. Approaching fruits and vegetables with the same zealous attention to seasonal availability makes that tiny dewberry window in May all the more special.
That being said, there are many factors that effects a particular ingredients season. The strawberry season down here in Texas is much different than it is up north. Location is not the only variable that plays a part. Seasons can change from year to year as weather, pests, bumper crops, soil conditions, etc can all play their part as well. Certain vegetables and fruits have so many varieties or such a long season that they can be considered to be in season year-round as well.
Click through to bookmark, print or purchase three posters on the seasonal availability of fruits, vegetables and herbs (for those of us living in the northern hemisphere).

Tips for sourcing in season produce

 While these charts will provide you with a general understanding of what is in season when, there are three additional steps you can take to ensure you are eating in season produce.
First, I suggest taking the time to befriend the produce manager at your local market or store. They will likely work directly with distributors (and if you have a good market/store then they will work directly with farmers) so they will be able to know the quirks of that year's season. If you are unsure, just call them up and ask if the produce they're receiving is farm-fresh from your hemisphere or if it has been in storage. It wouldn't hurt to know your store/market's operations or general manager either.
Second,  become good friends with some local farmers too. It is almost impossible to grow decent produce out of season and most local farmers won't have the resources to store produce for long periods of time; the produce you see at their stand was likely picked just a few days ago. Approach the farm with due diligence as well;  visit the farm and be nosey about how they manage their operations.
Third, – and this is your best bet – grow your own produce. You will quickly learn, especially if you live somewhere with weather extremes (like Texas or Canada with their hot and cold weather extremes respectively), that it is almost impossible to grow good, tasteful produce out of season. This first hand experience and understanding will give you pause when you go into the store to buy tomatoes in January.

Buy a print: 8×10  | 11×17


While fruit from a botanical sense can mean a very different thing from fruit from a culinary standpoint, both are incredibly vast categories. In the kitchen, if it's sweet and grows on a plant then we call it fruit. Because of this there is no unified fruits season, or characteristics for fruits as a whole that will help you identify good, in season fruit.
When looking at fruits, look at color, size, shape and try to spot any noticeable blemishes. Most fruits are typically very bold and vibrant when ripe so dull-colored fruit can be a sign of an unripe or undeveloped fruit. You've spent your life around produce so any fruit that looks abnormally small or large is probably a sign that it may not be in the best condition. And anything with a blemish, bruise, hole or other out-of-the-ordinary mark should be avoided.
Tips for picking fruits: Don't squeeze the damn thing. Not only will this tell you little to nothing about the quality of the fruit but all it does is damage it or you or the next person who comes along and picks it up. Instead pick it up and feel the weight. Most fruits, especially oranges and apples, should feel heavy for their size; this is typically an indication of a dense, juicy fruit.
Take the time to read the sticker on the fruit. Where is it coming from? Whether or not you care about the carbon footprint associated with a particular fruit, its origin will tell you a great deal about how long it has been since it was picked and even if it is in season or not.
Citrus: Most citrus will not ripen off the tree so what you buy is what you will end up with. With limes and lemons, the darker the color the sweeter it will be and the lighter the color, the more tart it will be.
One of the reasons some fruits have such a large growing season is because of the number of cultivars developed. Some fruits though have a naturally long growing seasons and others which typically have short seasons have been successfully grown in areas where the growing season is extended.
Cultivars: Take the time to research different cultivars. While some new inventions are truly delicious, many have been created to support long growing seasons and not always for delicious flavor and top-notch quality.

Buy a print: 8×10  | 11×17


Vegetable is another term that encompasses a very wide range of items in the kitchen. Because of this there is no unified vegetable season, or characteristics for vegetables as a whole that will help you identify good, in season vegetables.
While color, size, shape and noticeable blemishes can help you identify good vegetables, many vegetables are naturally void of color, come from the ground so they are covered in dirt, or are irregular in shape. Vegetables that are colorful are typically very bold and vibrant when ripe so dull-colored vegetables can be a sign of an unripe or undeveloped vegetable. Again, you've spent your life around produce so trust your intuition. And as always anything with a blemish, bruise, hole or other out-of-the-ordinary mark should be avoided.
Tips for picking vegetables:  Smell can be a very good sense to pay attention to when buy produce, especially for many vegetables. Most will have a delightfully pungent smell – obviously specific to the type of vegetable – so those with no smell might not be fresh or were picked too soon.
Again, read the label on the vegetable. Where it comes from is a big indicator of freshness and whether it is in season in your area or not.

Buy a print: 8×10  | 11×17


While herbs tend to reflect a more specified type of comestible, they are still varied and cover numerous genus of plants and therefore cannot be classified all together. While in cooking herbs typically refer to leafy greens or flowers and spices to the rest of the plant, in botany and here I use herb to refer to the plant as a whole including all of it's parts.
Most herbs are green (as most herbs are some form of leaf) so you should always be on the lookout for a vibrant green. A lighter green, yellow or brown leaf could all indicate a poor quality herb.
Tips for picking herbs: With herbs, you can trust both sight and smell. Most herbs are a vibrant color at their healthiest and most herbs will also carry a very strong smell.  The best indicator for fresh herbs is taste. Don't be afraid to clip off a leaf and take a taste. I not only do this in the market, but I will do it when I'm at a nursery trying to pick a particular variety of herb to purchase.
Herbs are also some of the easiest edible plants to grow. In fact, many of us probably have some sort of herb growing in our garden already, whether we know it or not. While each plant will require it's own growing conditions most require lots of sun, a warm growing season, well drained and nutrient rich soil and occasional trimming. You should never let an herb grow flowers (unless of course the flowers are the portion you use) as an herb left to flower will have bitter leaves.
Growing herbs to make spices:  Not only can you grow herbs for their leafy greens but you can grow them to harvest spices as well (using the seeds, pods, fruits, stems, etc from the plant). While this take more work and a bit more attention to harvest times the results are well worth the extra work.

I hope this little look into fruits, vegetables and herbs is helpful. Whether you are a strict seasonal-only shopper or not, knowing what produce is in season when can be very advantageous. Not only will you notice fresher taste and stronger flavors but you will see a marked increase in savings, and a heightened sense of anticipation and appreciation for each season.

Note about this post:  The post is meant to be used as a reference and has been researched and collected from numerous sources including but not limited to: Karen Page and Andrew Dorenburg of "The Flavor Bible", Glenn Rinsky and Laura Halpin Rinksy of "The Pastry Chef's Companion: A Comprehensive Resource Guide for the Baking and Pastry Professional" and from Bi Friberg of "The Professional Pastry Chef, Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry" Fourth Edition. 
Check out the other Kitchen 101  posts or view the Produce Calendars page.
Don't forget to check out the Chasing Delicious Store  where you can buy all three posters or the fruits , herbs and vegetables posters separately.  Ten percent of all poster sale profits will go towards supporting  education in the culinary arts.  

Infographic: When to Buy Produce

10 Ways to Upgrade Your Music Listening Experience

Top 10 Ways to Upgrade Your Music-Listening Experience
You love your music, but your listening experience may not be as great as you think it is. Messy libraries, bad players, crappy headphones, and poorly encoded files are just a few reasons that your songs may not sound their best. Here are our top 10 ways to upgrade your music from every angle.
This post is dedicated to Whitson Gordon , who is responsible for about 80% of the music-related content on Lifehacker (and practically every link in this Top 10).

10. Clean Up Your Music Library

Top 10 Ways to Upgrade Your Music-Listening Experience It's tough to listen to your music if you can't find it. While not particularly sexy, one of the best upgrades you can perform iscleaning up and organizing your music library . Mac iTunes users can benefit fromDoug's AppleScripts , but for the most part this is going to be a pretty boring chore. Put a nice mix together on a separate computer or music player and enjoy your favorite songs while you strip your library of its duplicates and unwanted tracks. It won't be fun, but it'll be well worth the effort.

9. Mix It Up with Some Live Shows

Top 10 Ways to Upgrade Your Music-Listening Experience You can carry around just about any song you want these days, but that's rarely better than seeing your favorite bands live. If you want to make sure you never miss an important show, Songkick is an app for iOS and Android that'll keep an eye on your music library and know when bands you like are playing. It's a free download, and a painless way to keep on top of the performances you don't want to miss.

8. Find Those Obscure Songs by Searching YouTube Comment Threads

Top 10 Ways to Upgrade Your Music-Listening Experience Finding new songs via YouTube can be awesome, except when you can't actually find them. A lot of YouTube videos pick some great tunes and then completely neglect to attribute the musician. You're probably not the only one who has watched this video and found the lack of credit annoying, so your best bet is to expand all the comment threads and search through them for the name. Chances are you'll find it and be able to download the song for yourself.

7. Utilize a Streaming Music Service

Top 10 Ways to Upgrade Your Music-Listening Experience You can fit a lot of music onto a portable media player, but you don't have to limit yourself if you use a streaming music service like Spotify or Rdio . Not only will you have access to a ton of music you don't own, but that access also provides you with a great resource for finding new music you don't know you like yet. Not sure which streaming service to pick? Check out our comparison .

6. Backup and Sync Your Collection Across Computers

Top 10 Ways to Upgrade Your Music-Listening Experience Your music collection will always be difficult to maintain if it spans multiple computers. The easy solution? Syncing. If you're just syncing a bunch of folders you don't have a problem, but if you're dealing with iTunes (and some other music players) you will run into frequent conflicts. To learn how to make syncing work well, check out our guide to syncing iTunes with Dropbox . If you just want to sync locally, you can use Cubby or MediaRover instead. The bonus of syncing online, of course, is that you can access your music collection from anywhere with an internet connection. You'll have to pay storage costs to do this, but it's worthwhile if you want constant access.

5. Unleash Your Headphones' Full Potential with a USB DAC and Amplifier

Top 10 Ways to Upgrade Your Music-Listening Experience When you plug your headphones into your computer—or, especially, your portable music player—you're probably not getting the best possible audio quality. A Digital-Analog Converter (DAC) and Amplifier can correct that problem. The downside is that you have to have an additional gadget attached to your headphones, but this is mostly irrelevant if you're using a desktop computer. Smaller versions are available for portable devices, too, so they're not as obtrusive. They're not that expensive and you can read all about them here .

4. Make Some Truly Smart Playlists

Top 10 Ways to Upgrade Your Music-Listening Experience Smart Playlists are a wonderful, often underused feature of iTunes and many other music players. The reason for their neglect is often a lack of ideas. One fitting option is to create a smart playlist that targets neglected tunes. Just tell it to include anything that hasn't ever been played, or has only been played a couple of times. Another great one is a "best of the year" playlist that aggregates your songs with the most plays in a given year. An easy way to put together smart playlists fast is to tell it to look for a specific word in the comments field of any given song. Then go and add that comment to any song that's relevant and your playlist will update automatically. This might be tedious initially, but whenever you want to add a song to a playlist you can just edit the comments rather than figure out where that playlist is and drag it over. Want more ideas? We've got anentire top 10 just for them .

3. Choose the Right Bit Rate for Your Music

Top 10 Ways to Upgrade Your Music-Listening Experience Some people think bit rate doesn't matter, and others will only listen to lossless files. There's definitely a difference between a 128kbps MP3 and a FLAC -encoded tune, but that difference starts to disappear when you up the bit rate of your highly-compressed music files. In fact, most people can't tell the difference between a 320kbps MP3 and a lossless file (or even less), especially with most consumer-grade headphones and speakers. You should figure out if the bit rate really makes a difference to you and your best bet for encoding your music. You want your music to sound its best, but "best" tends to average at about 192kbps .

2. Upgrade Your Crappy Headphones on the Cheap

Top 10 Ways to Upgrade Your Music-Listening Experience Just because your headphones are cheap doesn't mean they have to sound that way. A $30 pair can become a $300 pair , you can add noise reduction , turn them into a smartphone headset , and much more . There's nothing wrong with just buying a great pair , but if you want to save some money you can always upgrade the crappier set you already have.

1. Listen to Music Socially and Discover New Songs Through Your Friends

Top 10 Ways to Upgrade Your Music-Listening Experience Ultimately, the number one upgrade to your music is twofold: finding great new songs that you love and connecting with other people through the process. Social media has spawned several ways to make this happen easily, so you can hear about new music you might like through people you like and actually know your interests. Many of the previously mentioned streaming services connect with Facebook so you can see what your friends are listening to, but that's mostly annoying. The best way I've seen to use Facebook to find new music is simply to ask. Post on your wall that you want suggestions of new songs to check out to expand your interests and let your friends come up with a few playlists for you. That should give you plenty to explore for awhile. You can also use services like Monstro ,Soundshare , and to discover new tunes as well. There are lots of options, so just choose the one that suits you—and your friends—the best.